“What’s he doing now?” he asked in a curt and rather sour tone, though he attempted to avoid the latter element in his voice.
“Well, he hasn’t much of a job, I must say,” smiled Samuel Griffiths, meditatively. “He’s only a bell-hop in the Union League Club in Chicago, at present, but a very pleasant and gentlemanly sort of a boy, I will say. I was quite taken with him. In fact, because he told me there wasn’t much opportunity for advancement where he was, and that he would like to get into something where there was more chance to do something and be somebody, I told him that if he wanted to come on here and try his luck with us, we might do a little something for him – give him a chance to show what he could do, at least.”
He had not intended to set forth at once the fact that he became interested in his nephew to this extent, but – rather to wait and thrash it out at different times with both his wife and son, but the occasion having seemed to offer itself, he had spoken. And now that he had, he felt rather glad of it, for because Clyde so much resembled Gilbert he did want to do a little something for him.
But Gilbert bristled and chilled, the while Bella and Myra, if not Mrs. Griffiths, who favored her only son in everything – even to preferring him to be without a blood relation or other rival of any kind, rather warmed to the idea. A cousin who was a Griffiths and good-looking and about Gilbert’s age – and who, as their father reported, was rather pleasant and well-mannered – that pleased Bella and Myra while Mrs. Griffiths, noting Gilbert’s face darken, was not so moved. He would not like him. But out of respect for her husband’s authority and general ability in all things, she now remained silent. But not so, Bella.
“Oh, you’re going to give him a place, are you, Dad?” she commented. “That’s interesting. I hope he’s better-looking than the rest of our cousins.”
“Bella,” chided Mrs. Griffiths, while Myra, recalling a gauche uncle and cousin who had come on from Vermont several years before to visit them a few days, smiled wisely. At the same time Gilbert, deeply irritated, was mentally fighting against the idea. He could not see it at all. “Of course we’re not turning away applicants who want to come in and learn the business right along now, as it is,” he said sharply.
“Oh, I know,” replied his father, “but not cousins and nephews exactly. Besides he looks very intelligent and ambitious to me. It wouldn’t do any great harm if we let at least one of our relatives come here and show what he can do. I can’t see why we shouldn’t employ him as well as another.”
“I don’t believe Gil likes the idea of any other fellow in Lycurgus having the same name and looking like him,” suggested Bella, slyly, and with a certain touch of malice due to the fact that her brother was always criticizing her.
“Oh, what rot!” Gilbert snapped irritably. “Why don’t you make a sensible remark once in a while? What do I care whether he has the same name or not – or looks like me, either?” His expression at the moment was particularly sour.
“Gilbert!” pleaded his mother, reprovingly. “How can you talk so? And to your sister, too?”
“Well, I don’t want to do anything in connection with this young man if it’s going to cause any hard feelings here,” went on Griffiths senior. “All I know is that his father was never very practical and I doubt if Clyde has ever had a real chance.” (His son winced at this friendly and familiar use of his cousin’s first name.) “My only idea in bringing him on here was to give him a start. I haven’t the faintest idea whether he would make good or not. He might and again he might not. If he didn’t – ” He threw up one hand as much as to say, “If he doesn’t, we will have to toss him aside, of course.”
“Well, I think that’s very kind of you, father,” observed Mrs. Griffiths, pleasantly and diplomatically. “I hope he proves satisfactory.”
“And there’s another thing,” added Griffiths wisely and sententiously. “I don’t expect this young man, so long as he is in my employ and just because he’s a nephew of mine, to be treated differently to any other employee in the factory. He’s coming here to work – not play. And while he is here, trying, I don’t expect any of you to pay him any social attention – not the slightest. He’s not the sort of boy anyhow, that would want to put himself on us – at least he didn’t impress me that way, and he wouldn’t be coming down here with any notion that he was to be placed on an equal footing with any of us. That would be silly. Later on, if he proves that he is really worth while, able to take care of himself, knows his place and keeps it, and any of you wanted to show him any little attention, well, then it will be time enough to see, but not before then.”
By then, the maid, Amanda, assistant to Mrs. Truesdale, was taking away the dinner plates and preparing to serve the dessert. But as Mr. Griffiths rarely ate dessert, and usually chose this period, unless company was present, to look after certain stock and banking matters which he kept in a small desk in the library, he now pushed back his chair, arose, excusing himself to his family, and walked into the library adjoining. The others remained.
“I would like to see what he’s like, wouldn’t you?” Myra asked her mother.
“Yes. And I do hope he measures up to all of your father’s expectations. He will not feel right if he doesn’t.”
“I can’t get this,” observed Gilbert, “bringing people on now when we can hardly take care of those we have. And besides, imagine what the bunch around here will say if they find out that our cousin was only a bell-hop before coming here!”
“Oh, well, they won’t have to know that, will they?” said Myra.
“Oh, won’t they? Well, what’s to prevent him from speaking about it – unless we tell him not to – or some one coming along who has seen him there.” His eyes snapped viciously. “At any rate, I hope he doesn’t. It certainly wouldn’t do us any good around here.”
And Bella added, “I hope he’s not dull as Uncle Allen’s two boys. They’re the most uninteresting boys I ever did see.”
“Bella,” cautioned her mother once more.
The Clyde whom Samuel Griffiths described as having met at the Union League Club in Chicago, was a somewhat modified version of the one who had fled from Kansas City three years before. He was now twenty, a little taller and more firmly but scarcely any more robustly built, and considerably more experienced, of course. For since leaving his home and work in Kansas City and coming in contact with some rough usage in the world – humble tasks, wretched rooms, no intimates to speak of, plus the compulsion to make his own way as best he might – he had developed a kind of self-reliance and smoothness of address such as one would scarcely have credited him with three years before. There was about him now, although he was not nearly so smartly dressed as when he left Kansas City, a kind of conscious gentility of manner which pleased, even though it did not at first arrest attention. Also, and this was considerably different from the Clyde who had crept away from Kansas City in a box car, he had much more of an air of caution and reserve.
For ever since he had fled from Kansas City, and by one humble device and another forced to make his way, he had been coming to the conclusion that on himself alone depended his future. His family, as he now definitely sensed, could do nothing for him. They were too impractical and too poor – his mother, father, Esta, all of them.
At the same time, in spite of all their difficulties, he could not now help but feel drawn to them, his mother in particular, and the old home life that had surrounded him as a boy – his brother and sisters, Esta included, since she, too, as he now saw it, had been brought no lower than he by circumstances over which she probably had no more control. And often, his thoughts and mood had gone back with a definite and disconcerting pang because of the way in which he had treated his mother as well as the way in which his career in Kansas City had been suddenly interrupted – his loss of Hortense Briggs – a severe blow; the troubles that had come to him since; the trouble that must have come to his mother and Esta because of him.